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Anthony Rizzo pulls off shocker, returns to Cubs’ lineup four days after ‘season-ending’ ankle injury

The first baseman was cleared to play and added to the lineup less than an hour before the Cubs opened a critical four-game series Thursday against the Cardinals.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs
Rizzo is helped into the dugout by trainer PJ Mainville after suffering a ankle sprain Sunday.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Talk about all hands on deck for the big series against the Cardinals.

On Thursday, that included the broken ones. It even included the shocking return to the lineup of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, just four days after suffering what appeared to be a season-ending sprain of his right ankle and a bone bruise.

‘‘I think guys want to win and are pushing themselves,’’ said Rizzo, whose stunning comeback after the dire prognosis Monday provided a shot of energy on an already high-intensity night for the Cubs. ‘‘It’s just mind over matter, really.’’

It’s a little more than that in the case of Rizzo, who still wore a walking boot when he got to the ballpark Thursday, not anticipating he would have a chance to play — until a perfect storm of rehab progress and medical checks played out.

By the time he hit a tying home run in the third inning, Rizzo’s comeback was being compared by the more elderly members of the media to Willis Reed’s 1970 heroics for the Knicks (look it up).

‘‘That was huge,’’ said Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who was outdueled by red-hot Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty in the 10-inning loss. ‘‘That’s the guy he is. He’s one of our leaders. To have him back out there lifted everybody up, for sure.’’

Rizzo’s status for Friday is expected to be a final-hour decision, too.

‘‘If it’s really hurting in the morning, I’m going to be honest,’’ he said. ‘‘But if I can play, I’m going to play.’’

The Cubs also cleared shortstop Javy Baez, who is out with a fractured left thumb, to pinch-run, which he did in the ninth, wearing a protective ‘‘oven mitt’’ on the hand.

The Cubs also activated closer Craig Kimbrel (right elbow) and infielder Addison Russell (concussion injured list) before the game.

‘‘Listen, all these guys want to be out there,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘It’s hard to imagine what they’re going to be able to do after an injury, but we’ll find out.’’

Rizzo, who got an MRI exam and a cortisone shot Monday, originally was ordered to remain in the walking boot until at least the end of the weekend.

Rizzo said he was told the first 48 hours were the most important for the healing process and said he worked around the clock on the prescribed ice-and-compression therapy cycle.

‘‘I just kept saying this ankle doesn’t stand a chance,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s still obviously sore, but it was good enough to play.’’

Asked whether he would have tried to push it this hard if the stakes weren’t so high, he said he gets the wisdom of giving it enough time to heal.

‘‘You get [people saying], ‘Wait a couple more days,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘But we don’t have a couple more days. We’ve got to win now.’’

Baez, who was ruled out for the rest of the regular season after an MRI exam revealed the injury he suffered Sept. 1 as a hairline fracture, was hurt on a slide into second base. He’s still unable to play in the field because of the discomfort.

Hamels scratched; Mills to start

Amid all the returns and upbeat health updates came the news that left-hander Cole Hamels was scratched from his start Saturday because of ‘‘shoulder fatigue.’’

Left-hander Jose Quintana, who has tended to benefit from extra rest, will slide from Friday to cover Hamels’ spot, with right-hander Alec Mills coming out of the bullpen to start Friday.

‘‘It could be the rest of the season that he doesn’t feel good,’’ Maddon said of Hamels’ status. ‘‘And then all of a sudden he could feel good in two or three days. I don’t know yet.’’